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Volume 20 No. 42
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Burton transitions into new role

Jake Burton last week stepped aside as CEO of Burton Snowboards, ending a four-year stint leading the company through a difficult period when the economic downturn and weather challenged the snowboard industry.

Despite the challenges, Burton Snowboards remained profitable. Burton credits the company’s chief operating officer, Mike Rees, for helping make that possible and says that’s why the former VF Corp. executive and chief financial officer at Reef was tapped to become Burton Snowboards’ new CEO.

Burton, who will become the company’s chairman again, spoke with staff writer Tripp Mickle about the change and his plans for the future.

Said Burton, “I’ve gotta keep my thumbprint on this organization, the company, the sport.”

Why did you make this decision?

BURTON: We had a time of transition [four years ago], and I really felt the need to get in there and change some things. I was super motivated and had a long list of stuff I wanted to see happen. I kind of checked everything off the list … [and] I’m at a point now where the stuff I’ve gravitated toward is less important day to day. It’s product stuff. There’s a really capable guy [here in Mike Rees], and we really complement each other. Everyone is really comfortable with him and trusts him. It felt like the right move at the right time.

Did you consider any outside candidates?

BURTON: We did go through the search process, and we thought about going to an outside candidate, but we didn’t really need a visionary. We needed someone to bring passion to day-to-day [operations]. So much of this new economy is day-to-day execution. You have to have a vision, and that’s huge, but you have to run a happy ship and a tight ship and a ship that has direction. We have a trail map with our goals, and [Rees has] helped steer that and held people accountable in a positive way. He’s better at that than I am.

What is Rees going to be tasked with doing?

BURTON: Our stock, core snowboarding business is going incredibly well, but he’s got to keep that humming. Our apparel and our bags, which show promise, need to be developed. Now we need to grow.

How will you split responsibilities?

BURTON: I’m here to help watch after our core business. I’m going to Long Island next week to hang with team [Burton Snowboards] riders and go through every product in the line. [Rees is] tasked with not letting core snowboarding slip in the least but extending the brand to more year-round business.

How is the health of the business?

BURTON: There have been some surprises — weather and global warming and snowboarding getting trampled on — but we’ve been profitable through the entire thing. We don’t have a lot of long-term debt. We borrow a lot on a short-term basis. [Rees has] done an incredible job managing. It’s impressive what we’ve done in a tough environment, and giving him an opportunity to extend his influence is really justified.

How might your role as chairman this time be different from the last time you were in that role?

BURTON: I’ve gotta keep my thumbprint on this organization, the company, the sport. I don’t think anyone had the grip we needed to in the recession. The lesson we all learned, any entrepreneur learned, is that you have to keep your finger on the pulse because you can’t take anything for granted.

Is a sale ever in the cards for Burton Snowboards?

BURTON: My family is really connected [to Burton Snowboards]. I don’t just mean my family-family but also the family of people that work here. It would be really tough to lose Burton. We’re all happy, and why f--- with that? I don’t need a payday as long as I get to ride and cruise around, and that gets down to running the company responsibly. I might feel differently if [the company] were losing money hand over fist. It’s not.

You underwent chemotherapy treatment for cancer in 2011. How is your health?

BURTON: I feel great now. Over two years ago, I was really sick. I went hiking with a buddy to snowboard after chemo and had to stop halfway up. We just laugh about it now. [My health] just gets better and better. The body has an amazing ability to heal itself.